More than just offense
Vikings feature hard-nosed defense to go with plenty of weapons
CORTLAND — John Armeni just kind of nodded and smiled as he talked about his team’s offense.
The LaBrae football coach has all kinds of options at his disposal when he’s deciding which play to call, and the ear-to-ear smile on his face after a 49-13 win over Lakeview on Friday showed how much he enjoys deploying all those options.
Then he was asked about the defense, and he looked more like one of his linebackers as he snarled with approval.
“These guys are football-smart guys, these are guys that have been around for years, and they knew we had to make an adjustment,” said Armeni, referring to a LaBrae defense that had some struggles last year, when the Vikings finished 5-5. “We lost some games last year because we couldn’t stop the run, and we really made that a point of emphasis all year long — all winter, all spring, all summer. Those guys really bought in. They know that good football teams stop the run.”
The Vikings (3-0) appear to be a good football team.
They held Lakeview (1-2) to 13 yards and one first down in the first half as they took a 28-0 lead. The hard hits could be heard throughout the stands, with “ooohs” and “aaahs” coming from both sides of Don Richards Memorial Stadium.
It’s a tough-nosed mentality a team that was more focused on finesse needed to adopt.
“It really developed this year,” said linebacker/running back Colton Stoneman of the defensive mindset. “Last year, we had a little trouble stopping the run, and we knew in the offseason that’s what we needed to work on, and it improved 10 times over.”
The offense might be even more impressive.
Granted, LaBrae was facing a short-handed Lakeview team dealing with multiple injuries to key players, but the Vikings’ high-powered offense was in another gear.
Stoneman ran for 102 yards and two TDs on just nine carries and continued to show LaBare’s toughness with punishing runs in which he ran through defenders. Then there was quarterback Kent Wolford, who completed 9-for-16 passes for 165 yards and two TDs. He had completions to 6-foot-5 tight end Tyler Stephens (3 receptions, 25 yards, 1 TD), 6-4 wide receiver Walt Allie (2, 39) and speedy slot receiver Benton Tennant (2, 75), among others.
Armeni said deciding which weapon to use depends on the opponent.
“It’s really important to take the best matchups,” Armeni said. “Sometimes you find good matchups on the outside. Sometimes you find good matchups running the football, and it allows us to spread it around a little bit with what they give you. There’s no formula or anything on there. You take what they give you.”
After forcing a three-and-out to start the game, LaBrae drove 67 yards in less than 3 minutes, scoring on a 16-yard screen pass from Wolford to Stoneman. Another three-and-out by Lakeview led to another quick drive, with Wolford hitting Stephens over the middle for a 19-yard TD.
Allie then blocked a punt, and Stoneman scored on the next play from 9 yards out. The rout was on after that as the Bulldogs, missing several starters, couldn’t find a way to slow down LaBrae.
“They’ve got run, pass threats, and those are always the toughest teams to defend when they’re really balanced,” Lakeview coach Tom Pavlansky said. “They’re a very talented team.”
Dakota Whitt was the only real source of offense for the Bulldogs. The quarterback provided some big hits of his own, grinding out 64 yards on 18 carries — including a 49-yard touchdown in the third quarter. It was much too little, much too late as LaBrae still led 42-6 after the extra point was blocked.
Things don’t get easier for the Bulldogs, who host unbeaten Hubbard next week. The Vikings travel to Campbell, looking for their first 4-0 start since 2000. Armeni said the defensive approach must continue.
“We really rally around the linebacking corps of Riley McCleary, Colton and Anthony Harris,” he said. “They’re hard to block. They’re gritty, grimy type guys, and they like that stuff. They’re quintessential northeastern Ohio linebackers. We’ve got three of them, so we’re pretty happy about that.”
The other teams in northeast Ohio probably aren’t as happy.